Are high-street clothing sizes representative of the average female? Joanna Cunningham investigates whether our high-street stores are supporting the everyday woman.

Name: Joanna Cunningham
Age: 21
Height: 5’4”
Weight: 66kg
Figure: Pear/Hour-Glass
Shoulders: 17” across
Neck to Shoulder: 6”
Bust: 35” (size 10)
Waist: 31” (size 14)
Hips: 41” (size 14)
Inner Leg: 27”
Outer Leg: 36”
Neck to Waist: 17”

Note: The sizes above are according to the UK size guide. However, on average, I find I am usually between an 8-10 on my top half, and a 10-12 on my bottom half.

This is me. I am a pretty average size of a 5’4″ height, with broad and muscular shoulders, and a large-ish bottom. My BMI is above the normal rate for someone of my height, as I am naturally muscular, and the sport I do increases my muscle weight. I am neither fat nor skinny. Nevertheless, when I decide to treat myself to something exciting on a day out in town, more often than not, I leave feeling disappointed, disheartened, and frankly, fat. Terrible, isn’t it?

During these rare trips to high-street clothing stores, namely New Look, Topshop, Zara, and River Island, I am always shocked to note the excessive fluctuation of clothes sizes throughout. What’s even more shocking is that this fluctuation is not limited to similar items across the stores, but actually occurs within the same shops!

Experiencing this can be both confusing, as I have to take the same garment in multiple sizes to the changing rooms just to ensure I can find the correct size, and degrading, especially when you’re a relatively small person fitting into XL clothes. It certainly begs the question, are all high-street brands adhering to the size guides they claim to be?

Indeed, after assuming I was a size 10 for the past few years, as I mostly fit into size 10 clothing across all stores, I was gobsmacked to research into UK sizes and discover that my bottom half is supposedly a size 14 on the size guide! With this in mind, I decided to look into the uniformity of sizes within high-street clothing lines. So, let the investigation begin…


The skirt is probably the most fluctuating item within highstreet stores. Throughout my investigation I managed to fit into skirts ranging from sizes 10-14, all with gaping waists. Firstly, on my trip to New Look, I tried on two skirts, both in a size 10. One red skirt was a perfect fit on the hips, however it gaped a little at the waist. A camouflage skirt, on the other hand, was so tight on my hips I almost did not get it over them, yet it still gaped at the waist. Bearing in mind that according to the UK size guide a size 10 waist is 27”, while my waist is 31”, yet they were both too large… go figure!

Alternatively, in River Island, I was having the exact same issue, but with size 14 skirts! A size 14 River Island skirt has almost the exact same fit as the size 10 skirts I tried on in New Look.

I also explored Zara, and here was where I found the most disparity. I picked up a blue denim skirt in a size medium, which is usually the size I would try here. I also grabbed a size small white skirt; I find you can usually tell if it will fit just by looking at it, so I thought these sizes would be fine. Lo-andbehold, I could not even button up the M denim skirt, but the S white skirt fit almost perfectly, albeit a little tight!

The disparity in sizing continued into Topshop. I found I fit into both a size 10 denim skirt, and a size 12 pink skirt, each with gaping waistbands.

Overall, I did not find one skirt that I would have actually spent money on. In most cases I only just managed to squeeze them over my hips, but they were all too large around the waist. I would not class myself as having a unique body shape. In fact, I think my body is one which many women have, yet I was not successful in finding a suitable item. I think the main issue here is that skirts need longer zips so that there is a wider space to slip them over the hips, and then, once zipped, they should fit better around the waist.


Next up: jeans. Here I had a similar problem – no matter what size, they were all too tight around the bottom and legs, but too loose around the waist. In all cases, I would not have purchased the jeans; they were uncomfortable and unflattering, due to puckering in the seams from the tightness around the bottom area.

It seems that other high-street brands must learn from Topshop in this regard, as their use of waist and leg-length measurements means that women can more easily find garments which fit their curvy figures.


The one issue which really surprised me was that a lot of the tops I tried on did not fit adequately. As someone with a 35” chest, I fit within the size 10 bracket. However, there were major issues with all the “size 10” garments.

Firstly, in New Look, the size 10 tops were not suitable at all. The arms of one yellow bardot top were almost cutting off my blood supply, yet the chest area could have fit a second person in there with me! They clearly expect its wearer to have a large chest and very tiny arms… does that seem realistic? Alternatively, a black bandeau top was perfect for someone with absolutely no upper body fat. It seems I must perpetually stand with my hands on my hips for this garment to remain flattering.

Similarly, a halter-neck Zara top did not account for the wearer to have one ounce of upper-chest fat. There was space for my chest up to a certain point, but anywhere above that I was flattened like a pancake! It certainly seems that for a woman who measures a size 10 to buy a size 10 top, she must have a small and a large chest all at once, alongside stick-thin arms. Are women not allowed to have muscle!?


I had major trouble with the fit of all-in-one garments throughout my shopping experience. In River Island, for example, a gorgeous pink jumpsuit in a size 10 fit my “size 14” hips wonderfully but would not close around my “size 10” chest. In comparison, I managed to squeeze my “size 14” hips into size 8 dungarees, yet the top gaped around my “size 10” chest. See how confusing it can be!

In New Look, a black size 12 jumpsuit fit around my body, but gaped massively at the chest, yet a denim-effect size 12 jumpsuit looked a little loose around my bottom half but was extremely restrictive across my chest.

Last but not least, Topshop could also not decide on the shape of their target woman. The size 12 dungarees below fit my bottom half almost perfectly yet gaped hugely across the top half. In comparison, a size 8 jumpsuit fit to a tee, if a little unflattering.

These situations just go to show how, even within the same store, you cannot have the confidence that you will find the same outcome for similar items of clothing.


As you can see, throughout this one single shopping trip, I ranged between a size 8 to a size 14! It’s funny how I’ve always had this problem but once I actually looked into it, I was astounded by how extreme the issue actually is. Hopefully, my investigation into the lack of uniformity within high-street sizing should open the eyes of these retailers in order to bring them down to earth. As women, we need to feel secure in our shopping experience, by being able to pick up a singular garment in a particular size and know it will fit. I mean, think of the chaos of attempting to online shop if this is how it is on the high street!

Of course, these issues are hard to solve, and it’s something that has certainly been addressed before by the media, yet no action has been taken. The main thing I’ve learnt about being a woman who loves fashion is that it really does not matter how much you weigh, or what clothes size you fit in to, it’s just about how you feel in the garments you wear. If you feel sexy and confident, that’s all that really matters, not the numbers on your clothes tags or weighing scales.

You can keep up to date with Joanna’s work on her blog,, or follow @itstartedwithrebecca on social media.

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